How to find internships as a college student and what to expect

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By Zoe VanAuken, labor studies and economics student

I realized the importance of professional experience early on in college, and I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given through organizations, mentors, and professors. Internships can be daunting and sometimes challenging to find, and it can be intimidating figuring out where to start.

I’ve always felt that internships are important because they allow you to figure out what you do and don’t enjoy doing daily. While you may want the academic side of a profession or career, figuring out what environment you thrive in and what kind of work makes you happy is just as important.

Zoe VanAuken
Zoe VanAuken

I thought I didn’t want to work with people for the longest time, but through internship and work experiences, I realized that I love working with and helping people (I didn’t enjoy working in sales!). This is the time to explore and get your feet wet in professions that you feel might match your skills and interests, and it’s much easier to change your path now if you end up not liking something than beginning a career that you realize isn’t as fulfilling as you thought it would be.

Finding opportunities

Ironically enough, I found all of my internships and work experiences on my own time through Indeed or ZipRecruiter (both are free job sites that are updated regularly and can give you notifications for job types that you show interest in). Indeed is very easy to use and allows you to branch out and network independently (it also shows employers that you’re a self-starter by searching on your own).

Utilizing university job boards such as HandShake and internship fairs was also helpful for me, and Wayne State provides these events and services accessible to students.

Once I could connect with an organization or individual through a job board, I usually went through one phone interview and one in-person interview. **Easy tip: Always bring a copy of your resume with you! It can give you talking points, and you won’t have to rack your brain for all of the details and dates during the interview.

Just be yourself and remember that everyone starts somewhere, so don’t feel intimidated if you don’t have a lot of work experience under your belt. Be transparent about being a student and wanting to learn as much as possible before heading out into the professional world.

What to expect

My first days at all of my internships were pretty similar. I met most of the company team or those I would be working with closely and filled out paperwork, signed onboarding forms, and usually had a very long conversation about what I would be expected to do and what I would be learning during my time there. The following few days would be full of training, some trial-and-error, and asking LOTS of questions (taking notes is helpful, even at work).

After a few weeks, the typical day was very similar to the typical day for a normal employee, just a lighter workload and fewer responsibilities to begin with. I slowly built up to have the same duties as a regular employee, which feels incredible and rewarding. Some companies will allow you to extend your internship, or they may offer you a permanent position at the company. An internship is a little like a trial run. If you show passion and motivation for your work, companies appreciate the drive and dedication.

I did learn a few things about myself that I never expected, and I’m glad I could work through my fears before applying for a full-time job. You’ll be able to figure out your strengths and weaknesses, what makes you nervous, what you enjoy doing, and what is rewarding.

I never thought I’d be afraid of talking on the phone in front of other people (I even told my team members that it made me nervous). I just did it and practiced until I felt comfortable. I’ve had fantastic experiences with the people around me being incredibly supportive and encouraging, and I think this goes for many students with internship experiences.

I would highly recommend an internship or fellowship to any student for so many reasons. It helps you find a work-life balance, gets you used to a routine and a typical work schedule in your field and helps you make real-world connections outside of the university.

Professional and academic references are both equally necessary, and internships helped me make more connections and friends outside of school.

The first step is creating your resume and thinking about your skills and expertise if you lack work experience. Create an Indeed account or use an online job board, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there even if the internship doesn’t precisely match your major or career.

You never know what you’ll find if you approach every opportunity and possible experience with confidence and an open mind.

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